When Florida House Bill 883 was passed, it was meant to give struggling homeowners a way to generate income in harsh economic times by using their homes as vacation rentals.
But an unintended consequence of this legislation comes from the part of the bill that prohibits local government from regulating these rental properties, said Flagler County Commissioner Milissa Holland. This leads to homes that are crammed with 20 to 30 people, causing fire hazards, noise and safety issues for people staying in the properties and those nearby, she said.
“What happens is these homes, which were constructed as if they were single-family residences, are being converted into what’s more like vacation bunkhouses,” she said.
The bill, which took effect June 2, 2011, prohibits "local governments from regulating, restricting, or prohibiting vacation rentals based solely on their classifcation, use or occupancy."
Holland said: “Flagler County residents have indicated to me that they’re seeking relief, but there are also concerns for the renters themselves.”
Under House Bill 883, no local authority within Flagler County has the ability to inspect these homes for compliance with fire codes. This makes these rental properties potential life hazards, said Ronald Boyce, a certified Florida fire safety inspector and retired New York battalion chief with 31 years in fire service.
Boyce said: "People are buying up foreclosure properties and converting them into rentals. All they care about is making money, and they’ll cram as many people as they can into the properties."
Steve Milo, the managing director at Vacation Rental Pros, which manages about 660 properties in Northeast Florida, said his company follows the laws for vacation rentals under Florida Statue 509, which says homes used as vacation rentals are still classified as single-family residences.
Vacation Rental Pros employs a licensed general contractor to inspect all new rental properties the company takes on, he said. "Per the law, the limit is one person per 150 square feet of floor space."
Boyce said he thinks these vacation rental properties should be required to be issued new certificates of occupancy, because they operate more like hotels than residential properties and therefore should be required to follow codes for properties that house more than just one family.
Boyce said owners of these properties sometimes create new, unsafe bedrooms by adding walls and converting studies to make their properties more marketable.
“These people know nobody will force them to stay up to fire code,” Boyce said. “Nobody’s able to. I’ve filed complaints with the state about properties (with bedrooms) that lack proper secondary means of egress, and the complaints get sent to (Flagler County Fire Rescue). But the fire department has no authority to compel inspection, so there’s nothing they can do.”
One example of potential overcrowding, Boyce said, is a home at 11 Oaks Lane in Palm Coast. It's currently listed for sale and advertised as having five bedrooms.
But on VacationRentalPros.com, the house is advertised as having seven bedrooms.
“Realtors are going to list a house as having its legal number of bedrooms,” Boyce said. “But with unregulated vacation rentals, there’s no need to.”
Limits on the number of occupants are in place for the safety of firefighters, as well as occupants, Boyce added. "If there were an issue, the fire department might only send two firefighters to what they think is a single-family unit, only to find out there are up to 30 people inside, which puts (the firefighters) at risk,” he said.
Milo stressed that vacation rental homes are legally considered single-family residences even if they're used as transient housing.
Vacation Rental Pros employs around 100 people from Flagler County, Milo said, and he estimated Ocean Hammock, a gated community in which his company operates many rentals, will generate $400,000 in bed tax revenue in 2012.
"In 2012, we'll have about 30,000 guests staying in Ocean Hammock alone," Milo said. "This is an important component of our economy."
But for Boyce and Holland, it's important that regulation of this aspect of the local economy return to Flagler County itself.
Holland and Boyce agreed that an amendment to the bill could solve this problem by upholding homeowners’ abilities to rent their homes while still giving county government room to conduct inspections and penalize those in violation of safety codes.
“I’m a big believer in local government,” Holland said. “The people who know what’s best are those who are living in our community, and we need to get the power back.”
Currently 1 Response
- 1. Is this general contractor a licensed fire safety inspector?
2. Are these vacation rentals in compliance with the life safety codes 101 or the florida fire codes 69a?
3. Why would these management companies refuse to provide documentation that they are in compliance with the fire codes?
4. How many people can legally occupy a 10 x 12 bedroom,( 120 sq. Ft ) ? Is it none? This is less than 150 gross sq. Feet.
5. Are single family homes open to the public?
6. Who is regulating the occupancy in vacation homes? How many other homes , condo's or hotels would have been rented if these homes where not overcrowed?
7. Are these rental companies paying their fair share of bed tax to the county?
8. When individual owners change the use of their private homes to a public transient lodging establishments then the county should revise their C of O from a private dwelling to a public occupancy and tax them as such.
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